Wildcats run with the wolves

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Linfield students traveled to Mission: Wolf in Westcliffe, Co. to socialize with wolves and assist the full-time volunteers with odd jobs at their sustainable site during March 23-29. Mission: Wolf educates people about the wolf conservation movement.

While some Wildcats were catching up on their z’s, lying on a tropical Hawaiian beach or catching up on missed episodes of their favorite T.V. shows, some Wildcat Alternative Spring Breakers (ASB) were playing with wolves.

A group of 10 students and two faculty members ventured to the Sangre De Cristo Mountain range in Westcliffe, Co. Mission: Wolf, a non-profit organization nestled deep in the valley.

Each year thousands of wolves are displaced across the United States, many of which are killed by humans or cannot survive in the wild.

People purchase wolf pups from game breeders to raise as pets. However, more often than not they quickly realize wolves are not meant to be pets. This is where Mission: Wolf comes in.

Mission: Wolf is a sanctuary that houses 38 captive wolves and wolf-dog mixes. The sanctuary provides the wolves with a safe place to live. Mission: Wolf seeks to to connect people with nature through hands-on interactions with the wolves.

The full-time volunteers at Mission: Wolf improve human-animal relationship by teaching basic body language and animal behavior skills. They believe a better human-animal connection is the key to our peaceful coexistence.

There are more than 250,000 wolves in captivity and less than 10,000 wolves in the wild in the United States.

“The wolf conservation movement is a lot more vast and problematic than I had made it out to be in my mind,” said junior Kaleigh Ansdell, an ASB participant. “We as humans have historically attempted to control nature and it has put a dangerous wedge between us and our connection to the land we live on. We have to understand the natural world around us, appreciate the natural world, respect it and grow with it.”

Freshman Jessica Baker valued the experience because she learned about the conservation movement in a way that she could have never been taught in the classroom, through face-to-face contact with a wolf.

“There is still hope for the future of species and the environment,” Baker said. “What we learn in class is usually pretty depressing, but seeing the passion and difference these few volunteers make, not caring about money, was truly spectacular.”

Senior Lori McEwen was inspired by the full-time Mission: Wolf volunteers.

“Realizing that there are people out there who do things out of the good of their heart, not for the money, was incredible,” she said. “It really made me realize that I need to follow my passions, regardless of the money that will result from it. Following my passion is what will make me the happiest, and ultimately make my life the most meaningful.”

During the week-long trip, the inspired ASB members worked hard mitigating fires, building horse fences, hauling and chopping wood, installing solar panels, digging post-holes, mucking, repairing roads and socializing with the wolves.

“We worked hard, grew together, learned together, laughed together, and we got to interact with not only wolves, but some pretty awesome people as well,” Ansdell said.

The ASB members developed a special friendship with the staff at Mission: Wolf. Our Wildcats were praised for the passion they brought to the wolves and sustainability. The group was commended for their efficiency and positive spirit.

“I was repeatedly informed by the Mission: Wolf staff that the Linfield students were hard working, efficient, well-prepared, personable and friendly,” Associate Professor of environmental  studies Janet Peterson, a co-advisor, said. “By well-prepared, I mean that they had researched the cause and were able to engage in meaningful discussions about the issues. They had the right clothing and gear, they maintained positive attitudes and they always had smiles on their faces.”

Being a part of ASB was a rewarding experience for all who went.

“It’s important to participate in ASB because it gives you a chance to get outside of yourself for a week and make a direct impact on the world,” Ansdell said. “You can see the difference in people. No matter how tired or sore or sun burned, ASB participants return from their programs with a new breath and strength.”

One of Ansdell’s favorite moments during the trip was when a huge, black, amber-eyed wolf smelled her face and teeth and peered straight into her eyes.

McEwen said the best part about ASB is the opportunity to meet great people who share similar interests.

“Everyone gets so busy when class is in session,” she said. “Spring break is a great time to give back to the community and volunteer.”

A few of McEwen’s favorite parts of the trip were meeting the full-time volunteers at Mission: Wolf, learning to hacky-sack and being greeted by the wolves.

“Seriously, there’s nothing like looking into the eyes of a wolf,” she said.

The group jammed to Mumford and Sons every day during their three hour drive to Mission: Wolf in their 15-passenger van. They ended each long day’s work cooking for each other on a small kitchenette. On the last night, the ASB participants and the Mission: Wolf volunteers made homemade pizza and played music together.

For Ansdell, the only hard part of the trip was saying goodbye.

“Being out there, surrounded by one of the most beautiful mountain ranges, in the presence of such awe-inspiring animals, accompanied by a wonderful group of inspiring people, and having the chance to make a positive and direct impact–that’s hard to leave,” she said.

Sarah Mason/Features editor

Sarah Mason can be reached at [email protected].com

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